tor·toise·shell | \ˈtȯr-tə-ˌshel, -əsh-ˌshel\

Definition of tortoiseshell 

(Entry 1 of 2)

1 : the mottled horny substance of the shell of the hawksbill turtle used especially formerly in inlaying and in making various ornamental articles

2 or tortoiseshell butterfly : any of several showy nymphalid butterflies (genera Nymphalis and Aglais) that have wings mottled with orange and brown or black



Definition of tortoiseshell (Entry 2 of 2)

1 : made of or resembling tortoiseshell especially in mottled brown and yellow coloring tortoiseshell glasses

2 : of, relating to, or being a color pattern of the domestic cat consisting of patches of black, orange, and cream

Examples of tortoiseshell in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

Here, her patients include a Doberman pinscher suffering from a gunshot wound, a tortoiseshell cat impaled by an arrow and a miniature dachshund seriously sick after eating a hot dog. New York Times, "Wild Animals Gallop, Swim and Scamper Their Way Through These Books," 25 May 2018 The microbud print was the ideal foil to her soccer player–inspired Isabel Marant shower slides, which featured thick straps, and vintage-looking tortoiseshell shades completed the ensemble. Edward Barsamian, Vogue, "Of Course Dakota Johnson Gets Her Groceries in Chic Shower Slides," 18 June 2018 There are records of Japanese men sheathing their penises with primitive condoms made of stuff like leather (erotic) and tortoiseshell (no thanks). Carolyn Todd, Allure, "The History and Evolution of Birth Control in America," 12 July 2018 The features editor looked like a young Virginia Woolf in tortoiseshell glasses. Thomas Swick, Longreads, "Letters from Trenton," 5 July 2018 The Dipsea splits the difference with a classic keyhole nose shape and a tortoiseshell frame, while the amber lenses are pure performance: certified UVA/B polarized protection. Ben Fox, Outside Online, "6 Style Upgrades From Huckberry's Summer Catalog," 19 June 2018 Her classic tortoiseshell sunglasses from Finlay London Percy were her eyewear of choice for her first official appearance with Prince Harry, at the Invictus Games in Toronto in September 2017. Erin Hill,, "Queen Elizabeth Underwent Surgery Last Month — and It Explains Why She’s Been Wearing Sunglasses," 8 June 2018 He was built like a wrestler and dressed in business casual: a sky-blue polo shirt, gray slacks and round tortoiseshell glasses. Vanessa Grigoriadis, New York Times, "The ‘Sex Cult’ That Preached Empowerment," 30 May 2018 Men can update their look by choosing trousers with tapered legs, leather shoes with double monk straps rather than laces, and contemporary glasses with tortoiseshell or colorful transparent frames. Sue Shellenbarger, WSJ, "In a Digital Era, How Can Older Workers Stay in the Game?," 22 May 2018

Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

Matchett also produces tortoiseshell hair accessories and has expanded into silver and gold stainless steel hoops too. Emily Farra, Vogue, "Get a Head Start on Holiday Shopping With This Line of Pretty, Affordable Tortoiseshell Earrings," 1 Nov. 2017 He was dressed casually but crisply, tortoiseshell glasses framing his face and a giant analog watch devouring his right wrist. Jesse Lichtenstein, New York Times, "A Whimsical Wordsmith Charts a Course Beyond Twitter," 15 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tortoiseshell.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of tortoiseshell


1632, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1651, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Last Updated

17 Sep 2018

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Time Traveler for tortoiseshell

The first known use of tortoiseshell was in 1632

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More Definitions for tortoiseshell



English Language Learners Definition of tortoiseshell

: the usually brown and yellow shell of a turtle that is used to make decorations

: a cat with yellow, orange, white, and black fur

: a usually brown and orange butterfly


tor·toise·shell | \ˈtȯr-təs-ˌshel \

Kids Definition of tortoiseshell

1 : a hard brown and yellow material that covers the shell of a sea tortoise used especially in the past for ornamental objects

2 : a brightly colored butterfly

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